On the etymology of "sucks"

I’ve been reading Narnia books to my daughter recently, and midway through Prince Caspian I was quite startled to see, in among all the "By Jove"s and "Great Scott"s and the like, the following line:

(context: Edmund explaining why he, and not Peter, should be the one to take on a fencing match with another character)

“It will be more of a sucks for him if I win, and less of a let-down for us all if I fail”

That’s almost modern slang there. Except that a 2010 character would probably say “will suck more” rather than “more of a sucks”. But clearly, the derivation of the slang that he’s using there can’t be the same as the modern slang “sucks” - not in a 1950s kids book anyway!

So what does it mean? What’s the derivation? Anyone here old enough to remember 1950’s British slang first time around?


Rather British.

I just checked the OED (the Oxford English Dictionary) and one of the definitions for the term “sucks” is that it’s used as either an interjection or a noun in exactly the sense you describe. Furthermore, it was mostly a children’s term. The examples given make it clear that it wasn’t thought of being obscene, just childish. I think from the examples it was mostly a British term. The entry describes it as possibly being a shorter version of “sucks to you” which has the same meaning, both as in interjection or as a noun.

Now that you mention it, I do remember my dad using “Yah boo sucks” on various occasions.

As an expression, it’s still kind of lacking in the “making sense” department though…

I remember being told two origins of it in the 80s-90s. One origin is that it’s a shorten form of “go suck some eggs” or other various objects. That would go with the children’s saying

The second origin is that it has to do with oral sex. To get on one’s knees and “suck” was humiliating. So, it could be the children’s variant of “blow me.”

They left out the best one! “Sucks to your asth-mar!” - Lord of the Flies

Obligatory Johnny Cash link.

I used to play the videogame SimCity a lot. In one version of the game, there was a text crawl on the bottom of the screen containing citizen complaints. If you set the tax rate too high, one of the complaints was “taxes suck.” Someone complained on one of the official or unofficial forums about the game that the language was inappropriate.

You beat me to it!

And what do you think the derivation the modern slang “sucks” is?

That’s the first thing I thought of too.

In an old Three Stooges short (not sure which one since it’s just a clip I found), Curly says, “If at first you don’t succeed, keep on sucking until you do succeed!” In retrospect it seems like a pun of a sort, and given the character inveterate naivete, it may not have been intended precisely as the modern idiom is now. Since Jerome Howard died in 1952, it has to have come from before then obviously.

Could it be a variant of “shucks”?

Although many assume the modern slang “sucks” is derived from fellatio, my impression is that this is not at all actually clear from the etymological evidence. It is quite possible that the phrase derived elsewise, and only later acquired the sexual connotations.

The phrase “Yar! Sucks! Boo!” as a derogatory expression occurs frequently in the Billy Bunter school stories by Frank Richards. I doubt any sexual connotation is implied.

From the Online Etymology Dictionary:

First thing I thought of.

Only, I thought he said ‘arse mar’.

There seem to be two quite different slang meanings of “sucks” involved here. “You suck,” means something like you are disgusting (or mean, or horrible). “Sucks to you,” (or “Yah, boo sucks,” and other variants) means something like I don’t care about you or what you say. It seems perfectly plausible to me that these two usages might have quite unconnected origins, and that the first (which is now, surely, much more common) has to do with oral sex.

Hmm… in the absence of legitimate etymology, other than the direct Oxford English Dictionary and Online Etymology Dictionary references… it seems sensible to me that ‘sucking’ could be thought demeaning even if not applied to oral sex. And ya know, I’m not sure why anyone practicing fellatio would deserve contempt. Gratitude, yes, but contempt?

Chicken eggs are sucked by grandmas, and babes suck at mother’s breast; both signs / conditions of fraility and weakness. I bet that where “that sucks” comes from originally, somehow or other.

I was assuming an oral sex component of the origin. My evidence would be that when people are trying to intensify their use of the term they often turn to things like “sucks donkey cock” or “sucks the sweat off a dead man’s balls”. I admit I have no particular evidence that these elements were present when the term was originated, but they seem to go together quite naturally in many people’s minds.